Featured Garden: Colonial Williamsburg

| December/January 2011

  • The Colonial Garden and Nursery features herbs and rare heirloom vegetables, roses and fruits.
    Photo courtesy The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

• Visual Plant Guide: Grow These Herbs In Your Colonial Garden

There’s much to delight the herb lover visiting the historic gardens of Colonial Williamsburg, located in Williamsburg, Virginia, just 150 miles south of Washington, D.C. A former capital of the English Colonies, Colonial Williamsburg was key in our nation’s early history. In the historic area, you’ll be intrigued by the authentic Colonial gardens and herbs planted alongside restored 18th-century homes and businesses. Herbs brought from England and other European countries were used in cooking, cleaning, medicines, dyes, cosmetics and insecticides. Step into the John Blair House garden (see an image on Page 46) and you’ll discover the colors and fragrances of thriving historic herbs and flowers of Colonial America. Indeed a great lover of gardening, John Blair, Sr. resided here in the 1700s. The John Blair House garden is one of 100 historic gardens covering 90 acres in Colonial Williamsburg. The largest living history museum in the United States, the area comes alive with costumed interpreters.

“The herbs in this garden were grown mostly for their fragrances—both cosmetic and insecticidal,” says Laura Viancour, Colonial Williamsburg’s manager of garden programs. Lavender-scented dusting powder was used for fashionable wigs, for example.

You’ll also discover Colonial herb treasures thriving in:

The Governor’s Palace: The sumptuous complex of gardens, which resembled an English country estate, included a kitchen garden. Herbs played an important culinary role at the 18th- century table. Viancour observes that horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) was cultivated as a digestive aid for consuming meat. Vibrant dried yellow calendula (Calendula officinalis) petals were used to color butter and cheese, and to thicken stews.

Wetherburn’s Tavern: The kitchen garden included tansy (Tanacetum vulgare), which was rubbed on furniture to keep it clean and repel insects.

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